Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

When I drive past Swanson Middle School, the sight of that 1940-vintage gym never fails to trigger memories — youth basketball glories, anguish.

Who among my 1960s teammates could know that a half-century later I’d retain images of Coach Wren’s frown at my blown lay-ups, on wooden backboards that formed the backdrop for team photos of characters whose lives we still track?

To gauge the legacy of those sports programs of yore, I enlisted a real athlete. Bill Carter, Yorktown High School’s three-sport captain from the class of ’69 who quarterbacked at the University of Cincinnati, grew up in my neighborhood. Our shared memories go back to kickball drama on the James Madison Elementary playground (“slow and bouncy, please”).

We recently revisited the courts and “playing fields of Arlington” that did so much to mold our characters. Bill had not laid eyes on the Jamestown Elementary School back diamond for five decades. But he still savors the pivotal tryout when he felt accepted by the 10-year-olds already established on Arlington Optimist. Three grounders fielded and thrown to first drew a nod of approval from alpha kid Jack Bell (now a dentist). Coaches Jim Bowman and George Stevens “had us working on bunting for three weeks, and they even had a sliding pit,” Carter recalls. They stressed fundamentals “and always made sure we were prepared with situational drills.”

Optimist techniques — making a postgame list of what went well, never criticizing a player in front of the team — stuck with Carter as an adult businessman and when he coached high school kids.

A visit to the much-changed Williamsburg Middle School (Discovery Elementary now shares the land) prompted Carter to remember when his friend Joe Scott got injured and Coach Dave Gephardt asked him if he could quarterback. That field was where Carter first played against “man among boys” Reggie Harrison, the future Washington-Lee running back who graduated to the NFL.

Peering through the windows of the Swanson gym, Carter was astonished at how tiny the hoops court was — with mats on the walls to cushion player collisions, bleachers so close to the action that players had to ask spectators to move so they could inbound the ball!

At Yorktown, Carter recalled a baseball diamond notorious for its rocky infield — the coaches raked it constantly. The asphalt track interrupting left field required the outfielder to wear sneakers instead of cleats. On football game days, Carter praised the courteous teachers who, while opening the ticket booth, greeted the “skill players” arriving for early warm-ups. Carter’s best memory of Yorktown football was Coach Jesse Meeks allowing him to call his own plays. “As a coach, I would never let some 17-year-old do that.”

Perhaps the field most altered is Barcroft Park, with its state-of-the-art George Washington University-funded baseball diamond, soccer field, gymnastics center and re-divided Little League diamonds. Carter’s old coaches, when planning to drive across the county, “said the weather didn’t matter in North Arlington because it might be different at Barcroft.” Heartbreaking losses there in Little League and high school (exact scores, key plays) stick with him. Also remembered are the high-spirited chants of the nearby girls’ softball “pigtail league.”

Our drive ended with consensus of gratitude toward the coaches who, Bill said, “came back from the war and did community service in building young men, passing on lessons.”

“What a difference four years make!” said county board member Erik Gutshall, newly named vice chairman to newly tapped chairman Libby Garvey.

The two made nice at the Jan. 2 New Year’s organizational meeting, he praising her for being able to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

It was back in the heat of a 2016 primary that Gutshall accused Garvey, a onetime school board member, of missing signs of school overcrowding and scaring seniors citizens into thinking their real estate tax exemption was endangered.

Now the two are aligned in the board’s renewed “equity” agenda. In the audience watching was Garvey’s coming primary challenger, Chanda Choun.